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Is Tower Snow Jr.’s trajectory complete? After getting booted out of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison in 2002, the firm’s former chairman seemed to land well at Clifford Chance. Snow, who brought 16 Brobeck partners with him, boasted that by the end of that year, at least 100 lawyers would work for Clifford Chance in California. But in June, without achieving a single lateral hire, and with California partners abandoning ship, Clifford Chance announced it was shuttering all but the Palo Alto office, leaving one partner in that state. While almost all his West Coast partners have found new homes, at press time the 56-year-old Snow had not announced any plans. What went wrong? After being viciously attacked by former partners at Brobeck, Snow seemed to have lost some drive and momentum. At the London-based firm, he retreated when his ideas were met with resistance or indifference. “Tower pretty much stepped back after he had a few brushes with a few people,” says one former partner. Less than six months after joining Clifford Chance, Snow stepped off the firm’s Americas managing council. Snow insists that he wasn’t frustrated, but says that meetings in New York conflicted with his family obligations. At Clifford Chance, most managers are expected to maintain busy practices. Snow, who had not practiced for years, was not contributing much billable time, even though he sat at the top rung of the lockstep compensation system. Some also complained that he was rarely in the office. Snow says he usually spent three days a week in San Francisco, working the balance at his Napa home. “Nobody ever raised that as an issue ever with me,” he says. He also says that in his discussions before joining, the firm knew he wouldn’t be billing full-time and would look to his other skills. Overall, the West Coast offices’ performance was spotty, with only some partners busy, according to at least one former partner. Twelve of the 17 partners occupied the top compensation level of 100 units, which last year represented slightly under $1 million. The offices’ profitability was a bit below the firm’s average for U.S. operations. But members of the West Coast offices complained they were being allocated an unfair share of costs. Earlier this year, Clifford Chance increased pressure on all of its partners. For the fiscal year beginning May 1, 2004, profitability targets rose nearly 50 percent, according to two former partners. California lawyers worried that they would have a hard time meeting the numbers unless the firm reduced their allocated costs. Management refused to budge. They also disagreed on how to grow the offices, with management wanting to focus on Northern California and practices such as M&A and intellectual property. Snow and others wanted to develop all offices broadly. “There was quite a fundamental disagreement with respect to how the California operation should be grown,” confirms New York partner John Carroll, managing partner for the Americas. In June, after a meeting in San Francisco, the two sides reached an impasse. “It was best for them and best for us to call it quits,” says firm chairman Peter Cornell. Both sides say discussions were cordial. The partners have scattered to a half a dozen firms, including Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Latham & Watkins. “What we want and what the former Brobeck group wanted were two different things,” says New York partner Carroll. “We wanted to restructure some compensation and get a better footing regarding profitability.” He notes that Clifford Chance might be criticized for pulling the plug quickly, but it was clear that things weren’t working out: “There was easily enough time to decide whether we were all aiming for the same target.” Cornell acknowledges Clifford Chance hit some “bumps” in its U.S. expansion, which began with its 2000 merger with New York’s Rogers & Wells. In the last year, it’s lost more than 30 U.S. partners, including this group. Still, Cornell says the firm has made “a lot of inroads” and points to a 60 percent increase in U.S. work done for the firm’s top 10 clients worldwide. Snow is now weighing whether to leave the law. He expresses no animosity toward Clifford Chance, however: “The firm is a fantastic global institution. I’m incredibly saddened it didn’t work. It could have, and should have.”

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